Ok, so the first attempt sat today’s post went slightly awry. Oops.
According to the dictionary definition it is a Christian liturgical song set to a Bible hymn other than a psalm. The word originates in a Middle English and come from the Latin cantare (to sing) and canticum (song). In modern concert works it can be used to describe a work set to religious text, or even any other text if it takes your fancy – Britten apparently wrote a number of canticles set to poems. Anyway that’s the dry as Bob’s dog biscuits definition.
(S’boring, says Bob)My definition, or I suppose description more appropriately, is a glorious wash of sound, sending tingles down the spine and sending the brain spinning back in time to a chilly, dusty, echoey, cold grey stone church of the Middle Ages. Soaring, yet sensitive soprano voices singing in Latin these beautiful and unmistakably medieval melodies, sometimes unaccompanied, sometimes with a simple harp or fiddle drone in the background. Simple. Beautiful. Perfect. Have a listen for yourself:
(ok, this example might be strictly described as an antiphon, but gives you a good idea of the canticle style)